Shantanu was king of Hastinapura. So, clearly, he is Kshatriya by both caste and Varna.

Coming to Satyavati, she was the daughter of Chedi king Vasu and cursed apsara-turned-fish Adrika and brought up as the adopted daughter of a fisherman-chieftain Dusharaj on the banks of the river Yamuna. So, Satyavati is Kshatriya by Varna and non-Kshatriya by caste.

If the above two statements are true, then their marriage is inter-caste. Is it true?

Otherwise, how can they belong to the same caste?

  • Not sure how they belong to same caste, but there are many examples of inter-caste marriages in Hindu ancient history including pre-marital association of satyavati with sage parashar then gave birth to sage ved-vyasa
    – CR241
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:18
  • @CR241 Did Satyavati hide her union with Parashar towards Shantanu?
    – hanugm
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:25
  • What is this strange distinction between caste and varna? They are the same.
    – user1195
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:28
  • 1
    What ever Shantanu only know s the truth.. may or may not? but there are many pre-marital and post-marital affairs in Mahabharatha. I believe she didn't hind her past based on this statement "In Mahabharata, Vyasa's mother marries the king of Hastinapur and gives birth to two sons. Both the sons die and their wives are left with no children. She asks him to impregnate both the wives"
    – CR241
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:31
  • @moonstar2001 Varna based on family and are only 4. But caste is based on work and are many.
    – hanugm
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:34

4 Answers 4


Did Satyavatī and Śantanu belong to the same caste (birth-based varṇa)?

No. Śantanu was a kṣatriya and Satyavatī a śūdra.

Satyavatī's biological parents

  • Father - Uparicara Vasu (a king, most likely a kṣatriya king)
  • Mother - Adrikā (a fisher-woman, so most likely an outcaste or śūdra)

Here's the official birth story of Satyavatī from the Mahābhārata:

And the king [Uparicara Vasu] became possessed with desire, and he saw not his wife before him. Maddened by desire he was roaming hither and thither, when he saw a beautiful Asoka decked with dense foliage, its branches covered with flowers. And the king sat at his ease in the shade of that tree. And excited by the fragrance of the season and the charming odours of the flowers around, and excited also by the delicious breeze, the king could not keep his mind away from the thought of the beautiful Girika. And beholding that a swift hawk was resting very near to him, the king, acquainted with the subtle truths of Dharma and Artha, went unto him and said, 'Amiable one, carry thou this seed (semen) for my wife Girika and give it unto her. Her season hath arrived.'

The hawk, swift of speed, took it from the king and rapidly coursed through the air. While thus passing, the hawk was seen by another of his species. Thinking that the first one was carrying meat, the second one flew at him. The two fought with each other in the sky with their beaks. While they were fighting, the seed fell into the waters of the Yamuna. And in those waters dwelt an Apsara of the higher rank, known by the name of Adrika, transformed by a Brahmana's curse into a fish. As soon as Vasu's seed fell into the water from the claws of the hawk, Adrika rapidly approached and swallowed it at once. That fish was, some time after, caught by the fishermen. And it was the tenth month of the fish's having swallowed the seed. From the stomach of that fish came out a male and a female child of human form. The fishermen wondered much, and wending unto king Uparichara (for they were his subjects) told him all. They said, 'O king, these two beings of human shape have been found in the body of a fish!' The male child amongst the two was taken by Uparichara. That child afterwards became the virtuous and truthful monarch Matsya.

After the birth of the twins, the Apsara herself became freed from her curse. For she had been told before by the illustrious one (who had cursed her) that she would, while living in her piscatorial form, give birth to two children of human shape and then would be freed from the curse. Then, according to these words, having given birth to the two children, and been killed by the fishermen, she left her fish-form and assumed her own celestial shape. The Apsara then rose up on the path trodden by the Siddhas, the Rishis and the Charanas.

The fish-smelling daughter of the Apsara in her piscatorial form was then given by the king unto the fishermen, saying, 'Let this one be thy daughter.' That girl was known by the name of Satyavati. And gifted with great beauty and possessed of every virtue, she of agreeable smiles, owing to contact with fishermen, was for some time of the fishy smell. Wishing to serve her (foster) father she plied a boat on the waters of the Yamuna.

Now if you are like me and find a part of the above story (i.e., a fish getting pregnant by simply swallowing human seed and then delivering a pair of human babies) unbelievable, this article offers a more rational explanation:

This was the strangest myths I could find in Mahabharata. It reveals how imaginative these people were and how they entwine ignorance and imagination into such deadly cocktail. At least some of the ancient people believed that babies are born with the sole contribution from men. They considered women as mere vessels to carry the babies of men. It was unknown to them that to develop an embryo contribution from both man and woman are needed. A fish after swallowing semen delivering babies! Below is a plausible reconstruction of what might have happened.

Adrika was a maiden belonging to the Matsya (fishermen) tribe and Vasu beget two children in her, probably when he was away from his wife Girika. Adrika was described as an Apsara, due to her beauty. Apsaras were mentioned as extremely beautiful. The word 'Apsara' can be divided into 'Apa' (water) and Sara (lakes). They were often described as women seen in the vicinity of water-bodies like lakes and rivers. A Matsya lady (fisher-women) too lives close to water-bodies like seas, lakes and rivers. There are also myths about fairies called Matsya-Kanyakas (fish-women / fisher-women) who were half fish and half woman. Such tales were also similar to the tales of Apsaras. Thus Matsya Kanyakas and Apsaras seems to be same. Both these terms later assumed the meaning of fairies living close to water bodies, and Apsaras in particular was formerly their tribal name. Fisher-women were the Apsaras and the Apsaras were the fisher-women.

Adrika probably died while delivering the twin babies. Death of women after delivering babies, especially twins, were quite common in those days. The fishermen after learning about the affair between Adrika and the king might have taken the babies to the palace.


Satyavatī's caste

Assuming Satyavatī was born to a Kṣatriya father (Uparicara) and a Śūdra mother (Adrikā), she must be an Ugra1. And because an Ugra doesn't fit into any of the four castes2, she's an outcaste. However, for all practical purposes she can be considered a Śūdra3.

1 From the Kṣatriya on a Śūdra maiden is born a being called ‘Ugra,’ of the stuff of the Kṣatriya and Śūdra, cruel in his deeds and dealings. [Manu 10.9]

2 The Brāhmaṇa, the Kṣatriya and the Vaiśya are the three twice-born castes; the fourth is the one caste, Śūdra; there is no fifth. [Manu 10.4]

3 Six sons born on women of the same caste and of those of the next lower castes partake of the character of ‘twice-born’ persons. But all those born of violation have been declared to be of the nature of Śūdras. [Manu 10.41]

Śantanu's caste

From here, Śantanu appears to be a pure Kṣatriya (i.e., no intermixing of castes):

And Pratipa married Sunanda, the daughter of Sivi, and begat upon her three sons, viz., Devapi, Santanu and Valhika. And Devapi, while still a boy, entered the woods as a hermit. And Santanu became king.

  • I especially liked the way u ascertained Satyavati's caste. I remember these verses as i have used them in my answers.
    – Rickross
    Jul 29, 2017 at 16:44
  • Your answer here was really helpful in writing this answer! Jul 29, 2017 at 22:41
  • Oh that's good to know.
    – Rickross
    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:50
  • @Rickross, where exactly do scriptures say that Adrika is a Sudra ? Also, the second part is opinionated "Thus Matsya Kanyakas and Apsaras seems to be same"
    – ram
    May 16, 2020 at 5:53
  • @Rickross, by that logic, the sons of Satyavati (being an Ugra) - Chitrangadha and Vichitraveerya should also be considered 'Ugras' (or lesser), hence they should have had no right to the throne, but that's not the case. By extension, neither should Dhritarashtra or Pandu, because Vichitraveerya's very marriage to Ambika/Ambalika (Kshatriya women) would have been Pratiloma. If you argue that none followed varna rules at that time, then by extension, if Dhritarashtra was blind and Pandu was in forest/dead, Vidura could have been crowned king. But again, that wasn't the case.
    – ram
    May 16, 2020 at 6:56

Satyavati was born to a King, so she was Kshatriya woman brought up by a fisherman.

From Wikipedia:

Daughter of the Chedi king Vasu (also known as Uparichara Vasu) and a cursed apsara (celestial nymph)-turned-fish Adrika, Satyavati was brought up as a commoner – the adopted daughter of a fisherman-chieftain Dusharaj(who was also a ferryman) on the banks of the river Yamuna


It is allowed for a female to marry a male of a higher caste as per the Manusmriti. It is not allowed for a female to marry into a lower caste and thereby reduce her caste.

  1. For the first marriage of twice-born men (wives) of equal caste are recommended; but for those who through desire proceed (to marry again) the following females, (chosen) according to the (direct) order (of the castes), are most approved.
  2. It is declared that a Sudra woman alone (can be) the wife of a Sudra, she and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Vaisya, those two and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Kshatriya, those three and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Brahmana.

So it was valid for Draupadi (a Kshatriya) to marry those who were considered Brahmins (and there are many such cases of Sages marrying daughters of Kings).

Similarly it was considered valid for Satyavati (as long as she's not a Brahmin) to marry Shantanu, a Kshatriya.

Source: essentially any translation of Manusmriti. I used http://www.hindubooks.org/manusmriti.pdf

  • Satyavati was born to a King, so she was kshatriya woman brought up by a fisherman
    – ram
    Jun 28, 2017 at 2:39
  • @ram could u provide a link to the whole story of Satyavati being born to a king? I know she was the daughter of the chief of fishermen but nothing beyond that. Jun 28, 2017 at 3:14
  • see wikipedia
    – ram
    Jun 28, 2017 at 20:28
  • @ram got it from your answer. As an extension, is that compendium of puranas by Mani a valid resource and sourced from the original puranas? Asking mainly to include that into my list of reading materials. Jun 28, 2017 at 20:31
  • what do u mean by "compendium of puranas by Mani" - Manu dharma shastra is its own separate scripture derived from kalpa sutras, which is one of the 6 vedangas
    – ram
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:59

i don't see a clear difference here between varna and caste here. the vedas are filled with examples of people of all castes/varnas being cursed into abominable life forms but they always kept their caste. in fact, the higher caste personality being forced to hang out with the lower caste society was the pain that came with the curse.[Ref: Society and Religion: From Rugveda to Puranas By Jayant Gadkari]

Remember, Sage Parashar( the sage who could look into the skies and mentally calculate your Kundali in his mind and give perfect astro-predictions) saw Satyavati, he decided to produce Vyas with her because of her high caste(varna) hidden behind her fisher-women body smell.[Ref :Bhattacharya, Pradip (May–June 2004). "Of Kunti and Satyawati: Sexually Assertive Women of the Mahabharata"]


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